Recently a client asked me why it was that the rest of her house was so organized but she could not get a handle on her papers. A few weeks later, a caller asked about my experience with paper systems — for all kinds of papers, home, office, parents, his, hers, etc. My downsizing classes: we always need to cover papers. What is it about papers? What makes them so dreaded? And how do we turn this around to get them organized into homes, so we can USE what we save.
The key is that we think of and talk about papers as if they’re all alike. “My papers.” “My paper piles.” “My piles.”
First thing, let’s break down the phrase “my papers.”
Answer these questions for your papers, and you’ll begin to craft your method to organize them.
1. What kinds of papers do you save?
Possible answers, just to get you started: home decor or improvement ideas; travel places I want to go; EOBs/medical paperwork; investment and financial statements; notes and resources on writing a book; papers for my business; receipts for major purchases; taxes of course; church committee.
2. For EACH group of papers you’re saving, what do you plan to DO with the group? Why do you save them?
- home decor — probably next year, we’re going to redo a few rooms. I want the ideas to look at at that time.
- travel: actively planning a summer vacation; other info is for future trips.
- investment/financial/medical: for tax purposes
- info on writing a book: I know I have a book in me. I don’t know when I’ll start it but I’m keeping useful info until then.
- major purchases: keeping receipts in case I want to return or sell.
- church committee: used at each meeting (weekly I’m in that file).
3. How often will you need to use what you’ve saved for each group?
- home decor: I add articles a few times monthly. Won’t need ’til next year.
- travel: summer vacation a few times a week as I plan; else just save for future use.
- Investment etc.: at tax time. Maybe review quarterlies.
- writing my book: add articles maybe once a month.
- purchases: rarely
- committees: weekly
So do you see, as you begin to think about groups of papers instead of “all my papers,” this becomes easier.
Other important questions:
4. Are you a paper person or are you moving more towards saving info on your computer?It’s helpful to begin to move one way or the other, so you don’t have to check both paper and electronic files.
Yes, there will be some files which are mostly paper and you’ll also have bookmarked some neat web sites.
So on your paper folder, inside front cover, write down the web site names. Or create a bookmarks folder of “places to go.” If necessary, jot yourself a reminder note, kept in the paper folder, to review the bookmarks folder. But if you think you’ll need the info with you as you travel, think ahead. It needs to be on paper, on your PDA or phone.
5. Where will you gather and use the information? If you tend to sit in your home and tear out travel articles from magazines, this makes sense as a paper file. Also, the travel file is likely one that you’ll want to take with you on the trip. (Side note: buy plastic project files which are bigger and protect the papers while you’re traveling. File what you want to keep in regular folders or want to share, after the trip.)
6. How often you need to access the file will determine WHERE you put the file.
Your desktop is your “everyday space.” Prime real estate, so to speak. The “very current.” The “I use this everyday.” “I need to quickly find…”
Using our examples above, where would our papers and files live then?
On the desktop: committees, travel (if that’s where you work on your plans).
The file drawer at the desk: home decor
The credenza or file cabinet on the other side of the room: investments, financials, medical bills, writing your book, major purchases.
Taxes: current stays nearby, desktop. But older can move to credenza or in another room, protected, but together and easy to access if needed.
y breaking up “papers” into different types/needs/interests … your piles will disappear. Picture that !